Press Freedom And Civic Responsibility In Nigeria A Longitudinal Analysis


The freedom of expression is the bastion of a free state yet it has suffered severed repression across the ages. This is worse in transitional democratic societies, which are frequently punctuated by protracted military interregnum. This paper takes a hard look at press freedom and civic responsibility in Nigeria. The paper examines the ethnical principles underpinning press freedom and highlights selected incidents of government repression of the press. It is the thesis of this paper that although government is waging a war of attrition on the press, the vibrant and articulate Nigerian local press will survive the onslaught.


Human beings are by nature free agents that have the capacity to seek and receive information and express it in thought, word and deed through any media. In recognition of this freedom, democratic countries around the world have made copious provisions in their constitutions for people to buttress their freedom of expression. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1984) stipulates:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

This fundamental provision gave impetus to Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil And Political Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter On Human And People Rights (1981). This has been ratified and enacted in CAP 10 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (1990). Thompson (1992) strongly argued that the freedom of expression is almost impracticable in transitional societies in Africa most of who are suffocating under protracted military Baaskap. In Nigeria even democratic regimes pay only lip service to the freedom of expression, and this is problematic to the democratic enterprise, which though fragile, is the rarest flower in the jungle of human experience.

Since the Second Republic, the Nigerian media have been very vocal, vibrant and critical of government policies. The press exposes conspicuous cases of executive high handedness, mismanagement and mal-performance. Some people also finger the Nigerian press for escalating tension and instigating military intervention in politics: Uyo (2000) posits that while the media fight to educate the public, government officials most often insist on the use of discretion in deciding what measured doses of information the public should know. Besides, the Nigerian federation is fraught with structural abnormalities, which have culminated in inter and intra party struggles for power, lopsided fiscal federalism, resource control and executive legislative crisis. In the present dispensation, government has been subjected to severe pressure from the civil society, NGOs, Human Rights Groups and other pressure groups. In all these, the media owe the citizenry a duty to inform and update their knowledge in the state of the nation. An unbiased evaluation of the public information system in Nigeria shows that the masses are often inundated with inadequate, spurious and often misdirected information on public policy formulation and implementation. This has resulted in confusion, mistrust and diffidence towards government policy.

Another area of conflict is that while state security matters are secrets to be kept away from the public, the media are organs not of keeping secrets, but rather for leaking and publishing them. This paper in a panoramic spectrum takes a hard look at press freedom and civic responsibility in Nigeria. The paper x-rays the concept of press freedom and civic responsibility, the ethnical principles underpinning freedom of the press and selected incidents of government repression of the press. The paper concludes with recommendations on the need to use the press as an instrument of engendering sustainable democracy in Nigeria.

Conceptualization and Theoretical Framework for the Study

For the purpose of this study, the press and the mass media (media for short) will be used interchangeably to include newspapers, magazines, radio, television, and to a lesser extent film and books. Now, let us see coup. In the words of Obi (1999), A coup da��etat is a political act directed at the unauthorized seizure of power through the direct use of, or the threat of the use of violent force. It is often clandestine, involving a small band of conspirators plotting in secret and often taking advantage of existing social grievances or a vacuum in political power. Coup da��etat often targets existing office holders either for elimination (assassination) or forceful removal from office.

Consequently, coup da��etat may be described as an attempt (which may be successful or not) to illegally seize power or topple the government in power. Coup, especially in Nigeria, may be a�?fathoma�? or a�?phonya�? or even a�?stage-manageda�? by the government in power to get at some perceived opponents of the government. The word coup and coup da��etat shall be used interchangeably with military intervention. The military in the study consists of all the armed forces. It includes the Nigerian Army, Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Air Force but excludes the Nigerian Police Force (Obasanjo and Mabogunje 1992). The proposition of the social responsibility theory is germane to this study. The theory emphasized the need for an independent press that scrutinizes other social institutions and provides objective, accurate news report (Baran and Davis 2000). According to Baran and Davis (2000) the most innovative feature of the theory was its call for media to be responsible for fostering productive and creative a�?Great Communitiesa�? by prioritising cultural pluralism a�?by becoming the voice of all the peoplea�? and a�?not just elite groups or groups that had dominated national, regional, or local culture in the past.a�? The theorya��s expectation is that the media would

be pluralist and encourage diversity within the society. Media operators are expected to be responsible and accountable to the society as a whole and not to a section of the society. In the words of Baran and Davis (2000), a�?social

Responsibility theory challenged media professionalsa�� ingenuity to develop new ways of serving their communities.a�? They argue further that the a�?theory encouraged them (media perators) to see themselves as front-line participants in the battle to preserve democracy in a world drifting inexorably towards totalitarianism.a�? To them, a�?by helping pluralistic groups, media were building a wall to protect democracy from external and internal foes.a�? This study found that the Nigerian media have always been in the forefront of the struggle for enthronement, entrenchment, and survival of democracy in Nigeria. In doing this, media owners/operators have suffered untold hardship while some lost their lives, others were maimed. Another theory that is of particular relevance to the study is the functionalist theory (or what some scholars simply refer to as functionalism). Functionalism tends to explain social practices, and institutions in terms of the needs of the

society and of individuals (Merton 1957 cited in McQuail 2000). The societya��s needs as it relate to the mass media include the need for continuity,

order, integration, motivation, guidance, socialization, adaptation etc. The functionalist theory sees the mass media as essential to the society for integration and co-operation, order, control and stability; and continuity of culture and values (McQuail). The main a�?gista�? of the functionalist theory is that a�?the society is an ongoing system of linked working parts or subsystems, of which the mass media are one, each making an essential contribution to continuity and order.a�? According to McQuail organised social life is said to require the continued maintenance of more or less accurate, consistent, supportive and complete picture of the working society and of the social environment. The Nigerian media, it was discovered have done well in this regard. The media are expected to monitor a�?happeningsa�?, especially activities of the government, and report it to the entire society, which they have been doing. In addition, they are expected to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the society (See section 22 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution).The proposition of the agenda setting theory is also germane to the study. The theory assumes that a�?the media may not always be successful in telling us what to think but they are, in telling us what to think about.a�? According to Rodman (2006) a�?the main thrust of agenda setting is that media content might not change your point of view but it will change your perception of what is important.a�? He argues that the amount of attention given to an issue in the media affects the level of

Importance the public assigns to that issue. As noted earlier, the press in Nigeria has the press, military coups, and the Nigerian polity, actively been performing the surveillance and correlation functions. However, in the process it usually exposes the inadequacies of the government in power. This expose, most times are damning and were used by coup plotters as

Excuse overthrowing the government in power.

Concept of Press Freedom And Civic Responsibility

The International Year of the Youth quoted by Idubor (2000:148) defines freedom as a�?the right of each individual to pursue his happiness, in his own unique way, without a maximum interference from the state or from othersa�?.

In simplistic terms press freedom means the free use of the press and the right to print and publish anything without submitting it to previous official censorship. The liberty of the press consists in laying no restraints upon publications, and not in freedom from censure for publishing the truth. The liberty of the press is indeed essential to the nature of a free state. It also viewed freedom of speech as a principal pillar of a free government, which when taken away is replaced with tyranny. The media not only act as a check on government but also seek to erect and sustain ita��s own agenda within the ambit of the law. The objective is to arouse free and frank discussions through untainted analyses.

Civic responsibility refers to the duties and rights of individuals in a free, democratic society. Civic rights encompass the right to freedom of expression, assembly and other rights enshrined in democratic constitutions. Civic responsibility consists in making constructive criticisms to inaugurate a commodious society. It also implies conforming to the ground rules of dececy.

Idumange (2001) contended that press freedom is not merely a veritable tool to articulate the views of the masses on issues of governance; it also empowers the citizens to engage in constructive criticism as their input into the business of government.

Role of Ethics in Media Practice

Strong moral and sound ethnics are important aspects of professional media practice. Ethnics or moral, generally, refers to the value system by which an unjust action of a journalist in any situation may be evaluated not only by his conscience but also against certain acceptable standards, which have been established by the society, his profession or employer. But the fundamental problem in determining whether an action is ethnical or not lies in the fact that different practitioners have various perceptions and standards of what is right or wrong. Yet the situation is not often just black or white, there are many cases in-between, in the grey area, which is the boundary demarcating right from wrong, ethnical from immoral acts or correct professional behaviour from misconduct.

Jakande quoted by Nosike (2001:5) succinctly summarized media ethnics into three basic categories:

1. That the public is entitled to the truth and that only correct information can form the basis for sound journalism and ensure the confidence of the people

2. That the moral duty of every journalist is to have respect for the truth and to publish or prepare for publication only the truth to the best of his knowledge.

3. That the duty of the journalist to publish only facts, never to suppress such facts as he knows, never to falsify either to suit his own purposes or any other purposes.

Further, three dominant views exist in journalistic practice. They include:

1. Absolutism: which views every decision as either right or wrong, regardless of the consequences;

2. Existentialism: which holds that choices are made without a predetermined value system, but decided on the basis of immediate rational options; (and)

3. Situational-ism: which views decision-making as based on what would create the greatest good or the least harm.

But media professionals have the additional dilemma of making decisions, which satisfy journalistic standard of factual and truthful reporting. In his famous. a�?Declaration of Principlesa�? issued in 1906 to newspaper reporters and editors after launching his PR consultancy Ivy Lee articulated the minimum standard expected of professional media relations thus:

This is not a secret press bureau. All our work is done in the open; this is not an advertising agency. If you think any of our matters ought properly to go to any subject treated will be supplied promptly and any editor will be assisted most cheerfully in verifying any statement of facts. In brief, our plan is frankly and openly on behalf of business concerns and public institutions, to supply to the press and public prompt and accurate information concerning subjects, which are of interest and value to the public to know about (Idubor, 2000:59).

Ethical Principles Of Media Practice

Essentially, an inherent conflict of interest pervades the nature and practice of the free press and government. The interest of the government and that of the press often clash because while the government wants news reported in appositive light the media desire information that would excite their readers, listeners and viewers. The hallmark of a free, democratic press must be anchored on the following principles.

(i) Truth: A first class media practitioner should never lie to the news media under any circumstances. The integrity of public channels of communication must be preserved because they are the primary means through which the public, his client or employer are reached. Thus honesty is the best policy in media practice. Unfortunately, while some press agents try to hide the truth others sometimes exaggerate the truth through sensational reporting.

(ii) Fact: Although a news-story is a report deeply rooted in facts, publicists sometimes deliberately submarine a few facts in a sea of words. The more facts a news-story has, the better it is for the public.

(iii) Accuracy: A good news-story must also give an accurate account of an event. An accurate account requires detailed facts untainted by personal idiosyncrasies. These could be obtained from a constructive, dispassionate and comprehensive reportage or disclosure.

(iv) Fairness: Although most journalists are compassionate a�?reportersa�? of news about their clients and employers, the company will never be completely clean. A good news-story must also be an objective and fair account of an event. To achieve this objective the practitioner must have full knowledge of the event being reported.

(v) Integrity: The confidence of a journalist is the most valuable professional asset at his disposal. Good media practice can only be established and sustained with mutual trust and respect.

(vi) Service: Effective media practice thrives on the basis of service in a candid and polite manner. Public relations, generally speaking, is a service oriented profession with public interest, rather than private concern, as the primary motivation.

(vii) Timeliness: Rendering quick service or rapid response to media enquires also enhances effective press freedom. But experience has shown that some journalists act as obstacles, barriers or inhibitors of news, especially during crisis periods.

(viii) Friendship: By virtue of their profession journalists are expected to be friends to all. Yet they are not expected to compromise the fundamental ethnics of the profession. Good media practitioners are expected to interact frequently to create the desired rapport with all segments of the society.

Indeed the press could use these ethnical principles to promote civic responsibility in democratic governance. The press has the right to ensure that only professional journalists make decisions concerning what is published in papers. Also since the public has the right to know, accurate, balanced and fair reporting should be the hallmark of the press. The press owes society the responsibility of promoting anilitya��s and decency. Therefore, the press is expected to keep information concerning individual secret in accordance with public trust and morality. The press is expected to maintain confidentiality and refrain from disclosing any information obtained in confidence. In the same vein, the media practitioners should refrain from using offensive or vulgar language. Facts must be presented in a decent manner. Similarly, media practitioners are expected to avoid statements or references to peoplea��s tribe, sex, religion and other mental or physical handicaps. This is necessary to avoid litigation.

A journalist is not expected to solicit pecuniary gratification as a precondition for publishing a story. It is also advised that journalists should strive to employ honest and genuine means of gathering information. Although, where public interest is at stake, media practitioners should go the extra mile to obtain information. And apart from educating the people, the press has another social responsibility that of promoting human rights, democracy and peace. This is what the Nigerian press should address in this era of political turmoil.

In Nigeria, the press could serve as a potent instrument to enhance national unity and integration. This is more so in a democratic dispensation replete with centrifugal forces of pull and tear. Ostensibly, there are issues of public interest, which the public would not want the press to publish but the press could perceive non-publication of such issues as short changing the public. Here lies the antagonism between government and the press. This scenario has been aggravated by the proliferation of pro-government media houses that garnish the practice of journalism with unbridled sloganization.

Selected Incidents Of Government Repression Of The Nigerian Press

Since Nigeria attained independence in 1960, there had been several incidents of government repression of the media. During civilian administrations, powe holders have often used the machinery of state to enact laws to protect their political parties and governments from the onslaught of the press. During military regimes, the men in uniform use brute force and promulgated decrees to muzzle the press. Here an attempt is made to pinpoint some of the laws or legal instruments including decrees that were made by successive administration to restrict press freedom or outright muzzling of the press. Some of the laws were the carry over of repressive colonial laws.

As At Independence In 1960

The Newspaper Act, 1917, Press Registration Act, 1933

The Criminal Act and schedules there to insofar as it deals with

(a) Sedition: section 50 and 51 (ss4 16 & 417 of Penal Code (PC)

(b) Injurious falsehood; section 59 (section 418 penal code)

(c) Power to prohibit importation of publications: section 58

(d) Seditious publication against foreign head of state: section 60

(e) Criminal Defamation; section 373 a�� 379 (ss 391 a�� 392 Penal Code)

(f) Contempt of court: section 6 criminal code act and section 133.

Between 1960 and the coup da�� et at of 1966

Children and Young persons (Harmful Publication) Act 1961, Defamation Act 1961

Emergency Powers Act 1961, Seditions Meeting Act 1961, Obscene Publication Act 1961

Official Secrets Act 1962, Newspaper (Amendment) Act 1964.

Between 1979 to Return of the Military in Dec. 1983

Circulation of Newspaper Decree No 2, 1966

The Defamatory and Offensive Publications Decree No. 44, 1966

Newspaper Prohibition of circulation Decree No 17 1967

Public Officers (Protection against false accusation) decree No 11 1976

Newspaper (Prohibition of circulation) ( validation) Decree No 12, 1978

Nigerian Press Council Decree 31, 1978, Daily Times of Nigeria (Transfer of Certain Shares) Decree No 101, 1979.

From 1979 to Return of the Military in Dec. 1983

The 1979 constitution in addition to the criminal code and penal code were in operation.

From Dec. 31, 1983 when the military returned to power till date

Constitution (Suspension and Modification) Decree No, 1 1984

State security (detention of Persons) Decree 2, 1984 public officers (protection against false accusation) Decree No 4 1984

The Federal Military Government (Supremacy and Enforcement of Powers Decree No 13, 1984

Constitution (Suspension and Modification) Decree 107 1993. This decree reverted Nigeria to the operation of the 1979 constitution. It however, suspended those parts of the constitution that asserted its supremacy.

State security (Detention of Persons) (Amendment) (No 2) Decree No 14 of 1994. This decree prohibited courts from ordering the production of persons detained under the decree. In other words, any one could b detained, even for expressing his opinion on an issue that is of interest to the generality of the people.

Newspapers Registration Decree No 43 of 1993 and the Newspapers (prohibition and prevention from circulation) Decree No 48 of 1993: General Sani Abacha repealed the latter in November 1993.

The repression of the press does not just end with the enacting of anti-press laws. Government has take concrete steps to chastise media practitioners, proprietors of Newspapers. Incidents of repression were met frequent and under severe military juntas.

The Buhari regime promulgate the (Public Protection Against False Accusation) Decree No 4 of 1984. Under this law, Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor were jailed for one year and the Guardian fined N50,00 = on July 4, 1984.

In October 17, 1989, Dele Giwa was invited by the state security service and accused him of gun running. Two days after, Dele Giwa was killed by parcel bomb. As if that was not enough, in April 1984, the News watch Magazine was proscribed for reporting the decision of the Cookey led political Bureau. Decree No 6 of 1987 was later promulgated to lift the earlier proscription.

Decree No. 35 of 1993, the Offensive Publications (Proscription) Decree was promulgated to prohibit the publication of what government regarded as offensive. This was followed by the promulgation of Decree No. 48 of 1993 while proscribed concord group of Newspaper. The Newspapers registration decree was an attempt by the Babangida regime to regulate the press by laying down stringent conditions. However, on Nov. 18 1999, justice Ilori of Ikeja High Court annulled the Decree.

The military government went to the bizarre extent of prescribing death sentence for any journalist that published what the government perceived to be inciting. The Abacha regime clamped down on three privately owed newspapers: Guardian, concord and punch. When Babangida mounted the podium of power he repealed Decree No 4 which turned the press into a toothless bulldog. Within a year the Abacha administration descended heavily on the privately owned press. The Tell Magazine was prohibited from circulation and vendors who were found with the magazine in public were promptly arrested and detained without trial.

On September 10, 1997, Arit Igiebor wife of the Tell Editor-in-chief was arrested and detained.

On November 18 1997, Nduka Obaigbana editor in chief of Thisday was detained by security operatives.

In 1996, the offices of the Guardian, the News were torched by government arsonists. Mrs. Chris Anyawu, publisher of TSM, Kunle Ajibade, editor the News George Mba Senior Editor Tell, Charles Obi, editor defunet classique all were jailed 15 years for making unbiased reports on the 1995 video coup saga. Niran Malaolu, editor of the Diet also bagged life imprisonment (Daramola, 199:43-44.

Journalists in performing their civic responsibilities are often accused of subversion, espionage and plotting coup. Baguada Kaltho-the Kano State correspondent of the News was branded a terrorist and murdered in mysterious circumstances. Femi Adeoti, editor Sunday Tribune and 40 others were charged with sedition in May 18, 1998. A Journalists with the champion was attacked and robbed in Abeokuta before Tunde oladekpo was assassinated. Indeed the press in Nigeria has suffered violence and Journalists have passed through the crucible of fire especially under military tyranny.

The violation of press freedom is a common phenomenon in the LDCs. On August 1,1986, the parliament of Singapore made anti-press laws. In Malaysia, parliament prescribed a prison sentence mandatory for journalists who published classified information. In Haiti, Journalists had to be licensed by government before they could practice. Government censored many newspaper Houses in East Jerusalem. Press freedom has been a rare commodity in Kuwait, India in the 1980s. Malawi under Banda, Liberia under sergeant Doc, Kenya under Arap Moi, Uganda under Idi Amin.

Role of The Press

The press can enhance national unity, integration, human rights and peaceful understanding among the various segment of society.

During military regimes, the menace of official reprisals under national security laws or punitive press codes engenders a climate of fear in which Journalists worked under self-censorship. Political power holders frequently invoke national security to justify restraints on the free flow of information and in extreme cases gag the press. But in spite of the severe suppression, the Nigerian media, have confronted the anti-press forces with bulldog tenacity and unwavering equanimity.

Role Of The Media And Civic Responsibility In Nigeria Today

Section 22 of the 1999 constitution unequivocally stipulates the obligation of the press. The constitution states:

The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people (FRN: 1999).

The role of the media is undoubtedly crucial in nation building. The constitutional responsibility of the press is to educate, entertain and inform. In pursuance of this responsibility, the media broadens and deepens onea��s perspectives on matters affecting public interest. As the fourth estate of the realm, the media also serves as the mirror of the society. By the same token, the media is accountable to the people an hence the barometer by which the public measures the performance of government. The stability of democratic government depends on the free flow of public information about the policies of government. The media has the sacred duty of upholding the truth. This responsibility is articulated in Article 4 of NUJ code of ethnics, which states that:

The media has the social responsibility of collecting and disseminating information to the public, which means educate citizens and consistently strive to put ahead of others, matters of public and national interest. (Daramola, 1999:204)

Commenting on the significance of the press to nation building, Thomas Jefferson declared:

Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without Newspapers or newspapers without a government, I shall not hesitate to prefer the later (Asrienne, et al, 1944:12)

The media has a crucial role to play in sensitizing the citizenry to register and cast their votes for candidates that would best represent their aspirations. The enthronement of an enduring democratic culture is the most challenging responsibility of a free press. In performing this responsibility, culture is the most challenging responsibility of a free press. In performing this responsibility, media practitioners are expected to promote civility by maintaining confidentially, public trust and morality. One way of maintaining the integrity of the press is to employ genuine and honest means of sourcing information. Another is for Journalists not to solicit for pecuniary gratification as a precondition for publishing a story. Journalists must maintain their apolitical stance in order to uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government.


There is no doubt that the present civilian administration in some states is waging a war of attrition on the threshold of transition from one democratic government to another. The Nigerian press must be free to sensitize and consciencitize the masses and denounce mal-performance. When Nigeria suffocated under the reign of terror the press provided the oxygen of freedom, which paved the way for the entrenchment of democracy. The Nigerian press must be free to serve as watchdog of good governance and civil rights. The press must not be politicized if it is to play its sophisticated role of nation building and promoting civil responsibility of citizen. The media possess a supremely constitutional role to play in the robust development of the country. To accomplish this sacred mission the press must transcend ethnic or regional dominance to accommodate the pluralism that characterizes the Nigerian society. The press is the only institution that owes no allegiance to any political group. It therefore, behooves media practitioners to draw a demarcating line between absolute privilege and qualified privilege in order to avoid malicious and vicious propaganda. The press must not be susceptible to the machination of the political class.


The mass media, as an agency of socialization is indispensable in a nascent democracy such as ours. When properly harnessed, the press could serve as an instrument of promoting democratic values. In a society plagued by political thuggery, electoral malpractices and fledging democratic structures, occasioned by the creeping phenomenon of second tenure the press could within the confines of national interest, discourage sloganization, vicious propaganda and pursue accuracy and fairness. With the proliferation of media houses, professional associations such as the NUJ, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) Nigeria Press Council (NPC) and the National Press Association of Nigeria (NPAN) have the responsibility of enforcing strict media ethnics and encourage developmental journalism to consolidate the gains of our nascent democracy. It is the burden of the Nigerian press to sensitize the citizens to use their mandate to vote for candidates of their choice. At this crucial epoch in the political evolution of our nation it is the burden of the Nigerian press to improve the quality of governance in Africaa��s largest democracy. And no institution of government can abdicate this sacred civic responsibility.


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a�?Traditionallya�?, according to Sobowale (2002), a�?the role of the mass media is to inform, educate, and entertain members of the society.a�?It is also expected to propagate the cultural heritage of the people. The role of the mass media in a�?creating political awareness, engendering empathy and mobilizing people for social changea�? had also been recognized (Sobowale 1993 cited in Sobowale 2002). a�?The pressa�? according to Akinfeleye (2003) a�?is to watch-dog, check-on-to uncover and never to cover up corruption and/or wrong doings by the other three estates. They are also to monitor governance and make the other three estates accountable to the people at all times.a�? These functions, the Nigerian press has been performing since 1859 when the first newspaper (mass medium), Iwe Irohin, was published. The press has done creditably well especially in the area of surveillance and correlation. In the words of Akinfeleye (2003), a�?as a journalist and media educator (Prof. Ralph Akinfeleye is a foremost professor of Journalism, at Nigeriaa��s leading journalism school, University of Lagos, Department of Mass Co in its constitutional role of monitoring governance and making public officers accountable to the people.a�? However, it should be pointed out that the press has its own shortcomings too. It has been accused of a�?fuelinga�? the crises of the 1960s. The press that was nationalistic during the independence struggle, that provided nationalists arsenal from which they drew their literal arms and ammunition, and served as launch pad from which they launched vitriolic attacks on colonialists, suddenly became a parochial, primordial, and tribalistic press at independence. The firebrand press suddenly became a�?tribal-branda�� press. The press of the First Republic aligned with the three major political parties which themselves are ethnic (or tribal) based (Uche 1989). Consequently, a�?they (the press) could not perceive issues beyond the confines of party ideologies or ethnic boundariesa�� because none of the three major political parties had a firm footing in any region other than where it was based, even though each had considerable following in the other regions, the media could not promote national goalsa�? (Sobowale 2002). This trend was to repeat itself again especially during the months preceding the civil war and during the civil war (1967-1970). The press was polarized into two a�� those supporting the Biafran cause and those against it. During the Second Republic (1979 a�� 83) the press witnessed a a�?phenomenal growtha�?. Many newspapers, radio and television stations were established. Though, a�?this sharp increase in the number of mass media establishment was, as in the part, motivated by political considerations, it cannot be disputed that these media performed the traditional functions of informing, educating, and entertaining their audiencesa��and contributed in no small measure to the economic, political and social development of the countrya�? (Sobowale 2002). During the Second Military interregnum (December 31, 1983 a�� May 29, 1999) and the runoff

to the Fourth Republic (or is it Third Republic?) the Nigerian press had a a�?running battlea�? with the various Military Juntas. The regime of

Generals Muhammadu Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon (December 31, 1983 a�� August 27, 1993) set the tone for subsequent regimes on how to relate with the press. The regime remained one of the harshest military regimes in the country, for it had no respect for human rights including that of the press (Popoola 2003). Other military regimes followed the footsteps of Buhari/ Idiagbon and even surpassed them, in their maltreatment of the press. Under the Babangida and Abacha regimes newspapers/ magazines were proscribed and media houses were shut at will for daring to a�?inform the public of their dubious activities.a�? As if closing down would not do, arsonists, hired killers and hit squad (Strike Force) were let loose on the press, to burn media houses (arsonists were caught setting Guardian Newspapers office on fire in 1996 or thereabout), kill journalists (Dele Giwa got a�?parcelbombeda�� in 1986 while Baguda Kaltho of the News magazine is still missing till today (2007) about twelve years after he was declared wanted by the police) and to maim (Alex Ibru, the publisher of Guardian newspaper may not have fully recovered from the gun shots he received from the agents of General Abacha). To crown it all, journalists, both males and females, were arraigned before Military Tribunals on a�?trump up chargesa�? and many of them were jailed. At this juncture, it is important to note that the a�?wara�? of attrition against the press was not limited to the press men; their families a�� wives, children and relations a�� were not spared. Many at times, families of newsmen were held hostage in their stead. Guns were pointed at their little

kids, their offence, being related to journalists. In all these, according to Kalejaiye (1999) a�?the Nigerian press though harassed, pursued, bombardeda��yeta��remained undaunted in the pursuit of its watchdog role. The press was beaten but not intimidated. It was humiliated but not cowed.a�? It was this same press that led the a�?strugglea�? for the enthronement of a�?democracya�?. The Nigerian press literally led the a�?peoplesa�� armya�? that fought the military to a standstill leaving them with no choice but to hand over to elected a�?civiliansa�? on May 29, 1999. The press deserves a a�?locomotivea�? pat on the back (Akinfeleye 2003) in this regard. Since the advent of the 4th Republic on 29 May 1999, the Nigerian press have been up and doing. They have to their credit great exposes such as the one that swept Salisu Buhari, the First Speaker of the House of Representatives in the current civil dispensation out of office, and the Toronto certificate saga involving Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the governor of Lagos State, Southwest, Nigeria. The good news here is that a�?since the return to civil rule on May 29, 1999, the Nigerian press has not witnessed too much official harassment.a�? But there are few reported cases of isolated official high-handedness against the press. The one that readily comes to mind is

the brutalization of the Vanguard newspapera��s photojournalist by security operatives attached to the Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, early 2005.

The journalist was beaten to a state of coma and almost lost his life. However, lately, the government seems to be after the press again. Two journalists, Gbenga Aruleba and Rotimi Durojaiye of African Independent Television (AIT) and Daily Independent newspaper respectively, were arrested and arraigned in June 2006 for calling the recently purchased Presidential Jet a fairly used or Tokunbo (second-hand) jet while the Federal government claimed the jet is brand-new.The irony of it all is that the journalists were charge under a moribund law, the Sedition Act, a law that has been declared null and void by a competent court of law, the Court of Appeal, since 1983.

Military Coups and the Mass Media Factor in Nigeria

The role of the mass media in military coup has been and remains a subject of controversy among scholars (political scientists, historians, sociologists, mass communicators etc), mass communication practitioners, and politicians, members of the armed forces, civil society, and social commentators. In this section, we shall attempt an exploratory analysis of the said role. The role of the mass media (press) in military coup can be examined under three stages, before, during and after military coups. These classifications, especially the last two, are not mutually exclusive or iron clad. They are used here purely for convenience of discussion sake. The press, as noted earlier, serves as the watchdog of the society. Once it a�?barksa�? the society runs to see what has gone wrong (Obasola et al.2001). Obasola et al, also note that the press serves as a a�?barometera�? by which the performance

of the government of the day is measured. In carrying out this constitutionally assigned role the press prepares the ground for the military

coups. Obasola et al. argue that whenever an incumbent government is receiving negative press coverage or bashing from the media, the media a�� is preparing the ground for coup plotters to strike. They argue further that the coup plotters, most of the time, use the negative press coverage as an

opportunity or excuse to take over the government. So, with the media, societya��s feelings, thoughts, pains, anguish, agony, sufferings and what have

you were/are made known to those who were eventually motivated to carry out the coup (Durodola et al. 2001). For instance, Major Nzeogwu in a a�?broadcasta�? on the coup day (15th January, 1966) stated unequivocally:

Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand ten per cent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as minister or VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotistsa�� (Igbokwe 1999). While Major Gideon Okar in his 1990 coup

THE PRESS, MILITARY COUPS, AND THE NIGERIAN POLITY: broadcast described General Ibrahim Babangida regime as dictatorial, corrupt, drug baronish, sadistic and deceitful, to mention but a few. (Durodola et al 2001). Most, if not all these terms and allegations used by these coupists have been in the press before their respective coups. In fact, the press created some of the terms used by the plotters. In addition, some sections of the press have been known to have openly canvassed for military intervention, a�?to save the countrya�? from chaos and disintegration. This was done at least before the January 1966 and November 1993 coups respectively. The military was called upon to seize power from the Interim National Government to resolve the June 12 crises. During the execution of military coups, the mass media, especially the broadcast media, radio and television, usually played fundamental role. Because of the strategic importance of the broadcast or electronic media to the success or otherwise of the coups, coup plotters from the days of Nzeogwu (January 15, 1966) always make it a point of top priority to seize available radio/ television stations especially the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation now Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN a�� Radio Nigeria) stations and other influential stations. Coup makers or plotters without exception usually announced their coups on the media (radio/television). They broadcast their take-over of government over the radio and television. Although the coup planning and execution might have been on for quite a while, the general populace will get to know about it: the major actors and victims of the coup, the new government and its policy direction, if any, from the coup broadcast.

After the coup, the military depends on the media to pass their a�?messagea�? across to the general populace. The coup plotters need the media to win legitimacy. There are ample evidences to suggest that they a�?useda�? the media to legitimatize their regime. Without the media, it is doubtful if the plotters can gain the acceptance of the public, and win legitimacy for their new government. No wonder after the coup, every regime always solicits the support of the press knowing fully well that once the media make any move to discredit a regime (Durodola et al.), it would result in a rejection from the society. Such regime will have serious image crises to contend with even, if, it elect to remain in power. From the foregoing, we cannot but agree with

the assertion of Durodola et al, that coup plotters, more or less, had their fate embedded in the palms of the press. Their acceptance or rejection by the

populace, is largely dependent on how the press portrays them, heroes or villains? In a nutshell, the mass media played strategic roles before, during and after military coups in Nigeria. Even after a new regime, has been installed, the media a�?never lowered her guarda�?. Rather she kept mobilizing against military rule and canvassing for return to civil rule. The media was also in the forefront of the struggle for the restoration of a�?democratic governancea�?. At every opportunity, the media never ceased to a�?let all who care to listena�? know that military intervention in Nigerian politics/ polity was/is an aberration.

Demilitarization, Entrenchment of Democracy and the Mass Media in Nigeria

The handing over of power to an elected civilian government of Chief Olusegun Okikiolu Aremu Obasanjo on 29th May 1999 by General Abdusallam Abubakar marked a return to democratic governance, even, if in theory. The common enemy of the media, the military, is gone. This calls for a new orientation for the media so as to avoid the mistakes of the First Republic Press. The press that was used to a�?bashinga�? the colonial government and colonial administrators, suddenly woke up at independence to discover that there was neither colonial government nor administrators to bash. Left with no one to bash, the press decided to bare its a�?fanga�? on the polity taking sides with the then regional based political parties to a�?teara�? the country apart, the result was military intervention. Therefore, the purpose of this paper would not be complete if the issue of demilitarization and the entrenchment of democracy in Nigeria and the role of the media is not treated or discussed no matter how brief. This is because, in the final analysis, the success or otherwise of the current democratic experience will to a large extent be determined by how well and how far we are able to demilitarize the Nigerian polity. The mass media has an indispensable role to play here. However, it should be noted here that the best guard against future military interventions or incursions into the body politics of Nigeria is a good and highly performing civilian government (Obasanjo and Mabogunje 1992). This is also the only sure way to ensure a total demilitarization of the political process. The mass media has a very vital role to play here. More than ever before, the press must diligently watch over the country hard earned democracy. The press must never forget how she fought, suffered and eventually triumphed in the battle for democracy. It is not Uhuru yet. The country, the press inclusive, has not gotten to the Promised Land of democracy, where human rights are not only respected but also held sacrosanct, a�?safeguarded through policies, actions, directives and most importantly through constitutional provisionsa�? (Obasanjo and Mabogunje 1992). The danger of (military) coup still a�?lurksa�? around the corner. Nigeria still faces the risk of another cycle of military interventions, as long as our democracy remains fragile and the economy weak, if not very weak. If the above is to be, then we need a strong, versatile, nationalistic, patriotic, enlightened and constructive press, a press that will not allow it to be led by the nose by unscrupulous politicians and political jobbers. African Leadership Forum in one of its Farm House Dialogues notes, a�?a strong, virile and constructive press is a sine qua non for the endurance of good government and keeping the military out of politicsa�? (Obasanjo and Mabogunje 1992). But the question here is, who determines a good government, the coup plotters or their civilian collaborators or the elite or the masses? The mass media cannot do it alone. They must mobilize the masses to a�?serve as a bulwark for the defense of democracya�?. This, they can do by helping to inculcate in the masses the a�?democratic spirita�? that will not only cherish but also value, appreciate and be ready to die for democracy, if the need be. The Guide Dog journalism is recommended here. According to Tejumaiye (2005) guide dogging journalism not only gives the people news and information but also helps them do their jobs as citizens. This form of journalism would not just watch, as is the case in watchdog journalism, but also would challenges the people to get involved. In his words, a�?guide-dog journalism emphasizes the powerfulness of the people and that the source of journalistic power is the people.a�? The press must, as a matter of a�?urgency and national importancea�? put in place a programme (campaign) for the demystification of the military (especially the so-called retired generals) and their civilian stooges and collaborators, who are bent on hijacking the whole democratic process, attempt to a�?reap where they did not sowa�?. The press will have to let the people know that they have got a�?nothing gooda�? to offer the country. Let them be known for what they are, spent horses.


The Nigerian press has a long history of struggle behind it. Its forefather, Iwe Irohin was reputed to have a�?spearheaded the attack on slavery, which thrived clandestinely in what is now known as Nigeria a��a�? (Azikwe 1987 cited in Obasanjo and Mabogunje 1992). So, it was/is the case of a�?where the battle was/is, the Nigerian press was/isa�? there, ever ready to wage war against the forces of oppression. Whether the battle was against colonial oppression, colonialism generally, poverty, or against military rule, the press has always been in the vanguard and had performed creditably well. However, the press has its own dark side. On few occasions, the press took sides with thea�? agents of darknessa�? that tended to a�?destabilizea�? the country for their selfish end. On such occasions, the country and its people were the worst for it. For instance, the country and her people are yet to recover from the evil consequences of military intervention. Never again should the press allow itself to be used maliciously. As it was in the days of old, a�?the press in Nigeria should place more emphasis on its use for the public benefita�?.


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SOURCE :The Nigerian Voice (opinions)

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